Natalie French spent six weeks in Kenya working with local businesses as part of an enterprise placement with Balloon Kenya during the summer before she entered her final year of her BA in Social Work. She received support from the Careers Service to enable her to meet the costs of the placement. Here she talks about her initial impressions of Kenya and how she adjusted to living and working in a culture very different to her own.
Having never visited a developing country, I had my own expectations of what Kenya would be like. Usually we only hear about Kenya through watching heart-wrenching documentaries or via the news, with the focus on tackling poverty and images of starving children. My family were apprehensive about the trip and continuously reminding me how troubled Kenya could be. However, experiencing this country first-hand has changed my perceptions, opinions and perspectives of Kenya. It was truly inspirational and an experience I will never forget!
Balloon Kenya helps local entrepreneurs build and grow their businesses in Nakuru, one of the largest cities in Kenya. I found out about the programme via a university email and thought I would apply. Going to Kenya had been a lifelong dream of mine and taking part in the Balloon Kenya programme enabled me live my dream.
My first week in Kenya was a massive culture shock. I was adjusting to a different culture and different food and I was shocked by the basic standards of living. Initially, I felt out of my comfort zone and wanted to go back to the UK. However, on meeting other Balloon Fellows (other volunteers on the programme), I began to relax and enjoy getting to know the people I would be spending the next six weeks with. This was when I met Hibo, a Somali lady and another Balloon Fellow. I was glad to meet someone with similar interests, since, as a mature student, I felt considerably older than the other fellows on the programme and was beginning to feel a little isolated. Hibo and I became good friends and hearing all about her culture and her religious beliefs gave me a different outlook on life, religion and culture, especially in Kenya.
During my stay I was shocked by the way people lived in such basic conditions with very little in the way of amenities, clothing and food. Seeing the children running and playing in the streets barefoot was hard. I realised I needed to adjust my outlook in terms of how people live and work in this society. From a Western perspective, theirs would be deemed a basic way of living. However, in Kenyan culture, the focus is more on whether something works and fulfils its main purpose rather than aesthetics.
Despite my initial judgemental attitude towards the way people live within developing countries, my perspective was changed dramatically during my homestay with a Kenyan family in Lalwet, a rural village outside Nakuru. Here, I lived as part of the family, played with the children, helped prepare meals, met friends of my host family and gained an insight into Kenyan home life and culture.
This trip has made me reflect on how the environment I have lived and grown up in has shaped my views and opinions of the world. This experience has been life changing and I have enjoyed getting to know so many amazing, positive and inspirational individuals.
If you would be interested in taking part in an overseas placement, see the Hull Careers Service website for more details on where you could go, what you could do and how to apply. In some cases, the Careers Service may be able to help with funding towards the costs of your placement.